Saturday, September 29, 2012

Visiting Disney - Part I

I haven't blogged since May??  Where DOES the time go? There's so much going on, so I guess I'm going to have to start at the end and go back to the beginning(?).  Or something.

Anyway, George and I spent four full days last week at DisneyWorld.  We had decided the last time we took the kids that we would someday return by ourselves. We got the opportunity last spring when I received a "smokin' good deal" offer from DisneyWorld, so we booked.

First of all, most info on the web will tell you that late September is the quietest time at DisneyWorld.  If it is, I'd hate to see the place when it's crowded!  Several southeastern school districts have a fall break and they all come to DisneyWorld!  Then there are many people from other countries whose school schedules don't correspond to ours and they come to DisneyWorld, too.  And we happened to hit during the beginning of the Halloween festivities.  And last, but certainly not least, DisneyWorld wasn't created for adults.  It's a children-centric, family-centric theme park complex and it will always be so.  Having said that, we did have a very, very good time.  It's been seven years since our last visit to DisneyWorld and there have been lots of changes.  Some have been for the better, some for the worse. So, without further ado, here is the story of our arrival and our lodge.

Basic Disney Advice
By the way, my advice to anyone visiting DisneyWorld is to stay at one of the resorts on property.  There are lots of them - many more than I even know about.  There are resorts for every price-range and interest. If you want a less expensive resort, the All-Star resorts are great.  We stayed there the first three trips and they filled the bill at a moderate price.  You won't be in your room all that much anyway, so do you really need a luxury place??  If you want to upscale, though, there are resorts for every desire, whim, or anything else you can think of.  All the resorts feature transportation, which is wonderful - somebody else gets to do the driving!

The other piece of Disney advice I'd give is to get the Disney Dining Plan.  This was the first time we did, and it is so worth it!  After paying for your travel, park ticket and room, your biggest expense will be food.  The Dining Plan gets almost all of that paid for up front.  No surprises.  I was afraid we wouldn't use all of the meals in our plan.  We fell a snack or two short, but that was only because we didn't use the snack credits when we should have in Epcot.  Lesson Learned.  The Dining Plan works at all the resort restaurants, too - another reason to stay at an on-property resort.

Speaking of park ticket, don't necessarily pay the upcharge for the Park Hopper pass.  You can probably only manage one park per day, so you probably won't use the ability to go to more than one park.  At least, think it through before you spend the money.

The last piece of advice will sound very strange.  Don't necessarily use FastPasses for the big attractions.  Sometimes you really want to stand in line.  No, I haven't totally lost it.  More on this later.

Getting There Isn't Really Much Fun
In my desire to fly non-stop to Orlando, I forgot the primary rule of flying.  Fly as close to first thing in the morning as you can.  Why?  1) The staff is usually much more cheerful.  2) People tend not to want the earliest flights, so they may not be full, and 3) If something goes wrong, delays pile up upon delays and you can sometimes avoid those by flying early.  A flight just before ours developed a cracked windshield. As a result, flight after flight piled up with delays.  Our flight was pretty much the sacrificial lamb and we didn't even leave the ground until an hour after we should have arrived in Orlando.  Four hours late.  Sigh.  We planned to use "Mickey's Magical Express" service which would transport the bags from the airport to our room.  However, the service stops at 10:00pm and we weren't due in until 10:50.  Due to some bad information we received from Disney, we believed that our bags were going to be held until the next day and that we couldn't retrieve them.  We had the baggage people here pull the tags from the bags, which was unnecessary, as it turns out.  If the bags arrive after 10:00pm, they put them on the carousel regardless.  Ah well.  Lesson learned.

The bus delivered us safely to our hotel at about 1:00am.  Needless to say, even with Disney Magic, all the restaurants were closed and we got nothing for supper.  Ah, but our hotel...

Animal Kingdom Lodge
Pin from Animal Kingdom Lodge

I've always wanted to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  If you've ever wanted to, do it.  Do it maybe even if you haven't wanted to.  We arrived tired, hungry, cranky and not in a very magical frame of mind, to be greeted gently and pleasantly by everyone there.  Our package was ready, our room waiting and even a fun Mickey waiting for us, courtesy of a very creative maid, so I believe!
Mickey in Towels

 Part of our "smokin' good deal" was an upgrade to a Savannah view room.  Yep!  That means we could wake up with a giraffe looking in our window!  Well, maybe not quite that close, but you look out over the enclosure and you'll see giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, ostriches, and many more critters. Really, truly.  I have trouble sleeping the first night in a new place, so I got up at 3:30am or so and looked out the window... right at a small herd of giraffe laying down catching some "z's."  I watched one of them get up - no small matter when your legs and neck are that long - and actually rear up a bit.  I've never seen that before, even when I worked as a docent in our zoo!  I never did get any good photos of the animals from our balcony, but here are a couple:
Giraffe Snoozing Outside Our Window
Look Carefully - Lots of Animals!

Besides the view of the animals, Animal Kingdom Lodge has three of the best restaurants around. The food is truly awesome.  Mara is a quick-service, run-your-tray-through-the-line restaurant.  It opens early and stays open late. I wasn't expecting much from it, but, whoa, was I wrong! You can get typical food there, but they have a few African specialties, too, which you should really try.  The bobotie plate was my hands-down favorite.

Boma is the second restaurant.  It counts as a table-service restaurant, but it's buffet-style.  It's a flat-rate, all you can eat place.  They have enough "normal" dishes for the less adventurous eaters in the crowd, but their African-inspired dishes are yummy.  There's a constant barbecue smell from the place that set my mouth watering every time I passed by, even if I'd just eaten.  It's awesome!

The third restaurant, Jiko, is nothing less than exceptional.  We were blessed with being able to chat with the sous-chef, a wonderful woman who can so obviously think in food.  She has my unending respect.  We also took her recommendations.  Gentle hint.  Do likewise.  We had the swordfish and the pork the first night, with the tea-and-chocolate dessert and the milk tart.  The second time we ate there, I had the berbere-crusted duck and George had another pork dish.  We had the Black Forest Cake (not traditional and incredibly yummy!) and the tea-and-chocolate dessert again.  Honestly, anything you get will be spectacular. Because I was running a fever and starting in on going all symptomatic on my cold, I was feeling awful.  Hot tea sounded just perfect so I had their chai.  I wish I knew where they get it because it's some of the best I've ever tasted.

Gentle hint: I'd make reservations for Boma and Jiko.  They fill up quickly.  Also, if you can stand to, eat late.  The crowds are thinning and your experience will be quieter and more pleasant.

From what I understand, the Tusker House Restaurant in the African section of Animal Kingdom is run by the same people who run Boma, so the food there should be awesome.  We didn't try Tusker... well, not exactly by that name.  You'll see later!

In addition to everything else, Animal Kingdom Lodge has activities and features that could keep you right there at the resort for days.  Why mess with the crowds in the parks??

Okay!  Enough about Getting There and our Lodge.  The next installment will follow our adventures through Magic Kingdom.  More photos and less blah-blah, I promise!